"Why is a raven like a writing desk?" "Because Poe wrote on both?"
“The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through; the hole is frozen over by the following morning.”
I've heard Fforde's work compared to Douglas Adams and Monty Python and there's truth to that. But nothing quite sums up the odd blend of alternate history, literary love, quirky humor, and just sheer brilliance. The book had me at the first chapter: "As the Crimean War enters its one hundred and thirty first year..." Forget the Chronoguard, forget the already depth of world-building going on; this author was using an alternate history of the Crimean War! Who does that?!
The characters are interesting and you can almost see and hear them. Thursday Next is a wonderfully complex woman who has to deal with ghosts from her past as well as the third most dangerous person in the world. Most of the book is told from her perspective, you get to experience her world through her eyes.
“Maybe those sorts of yes-or-no life-and-death decisions are easier to make because they are so black and white. I can cope with them because it's easier. Human emotions, well. . .they're just a fathomless collection of grays and I don't do so well on the midtones.”
"There was a sound of breaking glass and a muffled curse a small way distant.
‘What was that?’
‘Probably rats,’ said Frampton.
‘And the swearing?’
Acheron Hades is one the big bad in this one and I mean that completely. One of the few villains I've seen recently that is evil truly for evil's sake, he has such fun doing his terrible deeds you can't help but want to see what his banter might be. There are times I really laugh at what he says...but mostly he scares me. He and Thursday match wits well and he seems to truly enjoy sparing with her.
“The best reason for committing loathsome and detestable acts--and let's face it, I am considered something of an expert in this field--is purely for their own sake. Monetary gain is all very well, but it dilutes the taste of wickedness to a lower level that is obtainable by anyone with an overdeveloped sense of avarice. True and baseless evil is as rare as the purest good--and we all know how rare that is...”
The other major person who just keeps popping up is Jack Schitt (ha!). A Corporate heavy for the Goliath Corporation - "...was to altruism what Genghis Khan was to soft furnishings" - he dogs Thursday's every step and often arrives before she does. Though she fights against it, she seems to have no choice but to end up working with him.
"And if you want a piece of advice, go easy with Jack Schitt. We hear the man's a psychopath." "Thanks for the tip, Franklin," I said. "I'd never have noticed."
The setting is wonderful, so much is going on but Fforde gives you the descriptions bit by bit. You have to be patient for little nuggets of information. Some are highlighted while others are so offhandedly said, you can easily miss them.
"the typical brusque and no-nonsense Germanic design had been built during the the Occupation as a law court"
"I wasn't a member of the ChronoGuard. I never wanted to be. By all accounts it's not a huge barrel of laughs, although the pay is good and the service boasts a retirement plan that is second to none: a one-way ticket to anywhere and anywhen you want."
"The train would have been cheaper, but like many people I love to fly by gasbag."
But it is the literary aspects that are so perfect for book lovers. There is a literary policing agency - SO-27 - and such love of art and literature. The Will - Speaks, the Rocky Horror style Richard III - "WHEN is the winter of our discontent!?" , the whole of Acheron's plan, etc. everything paints books as a major part of this world.
While an in depth knowledge of history is not needed, some on literature is kind of necessary. Nothing major, but some basic info on the classics does help. I would also suggest though it's not apparently necessary, reading Jane Eyre before this.
Jasper Fforde pulls no punches. The information is there, it simply isn't spoon-fed to you. He does not write down to you but rather he expects you to meet him on the decent level he sets his books. He expects much at times but gifts it in humorous packaging. While not a book I can read with less then full concentration, I've always been rewarded and remember why I try to buy every book he writes as they come out.
I definitely rate this five cloned dodos! (I want a Pickwick of my own!)
Some places to check out:
TV tropes page on Thursday Next. Warning: There be spoilers here!
The author's website, which can be quite hilarious at times. Also has information on the Fforde Ffiesta, which I want to go to at least once in my life.